Schlocktoberfest #30: Eyes Without a Face
This classic from 60’s France is quite different and merges the dreamy world of Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast with the familiar mad scientist genre. Dr. Genessier’s daughter Christiane was grievously injured in a car accident; she lives upstairs, wearing a creepy blank mask where her face once was. Her face gone, and her mind is slowly following, as the toll of her isolation and injury weigh more heavily on her. The only contact she gets is with the dogs her father performs medical experiments on, as he tries to develop a face transplant to make her whole again.
We’re introduced to this sordid situation as a luxury motorcar pulls over by the river, and a woman in a fur coat walks out in the snow to dump a body. Hitchcock wishes he opened a movie like this; it really draws you in, especially as horror of the bizarre obsession of a father for his child sinks in. For he’s not merely experimenting on dogs, but kidnapping patients from his clinic and using their faces! Unfortunately, he just can’t get it right.
Much of our time is spent with Christiane, who pines for her lost beau- who thinks she perished in the crash. She wanders the upper floors, hidden from view, wearing her plain blank mask. It gives her a doll-like quality, and she seems to glide like an apparition. We begin to feel the deep sadness of her state, the utter loneliness of her isolation and the deep emotional wound that her brutal injury has given her. And as for her father- he is portrayed as a normal doctor, which makes his horrific obsession all the more disturbing. When he peels the face off an anesthetized victim with cold surgical precision, it is more akin to the experiments of the Nazis than a serial killer, and all the more chilling.
For 1960, seeing a doctor scalpel a woman’s face off is pretty intense; it’s not as gory as Face/Off but it’s handled in a much more horrifying way. The film definitely influenced Tim Burton for the Joker’s mutilated girlfriend in Batman (1989). The chilling ending, when Christiane decides she can take this no more, is handled fantastically. The brutal comeuppance of the obsessed butcher juxtaposed with the haunting imagery of Christiane and her mask, walking into the night wearing a white dress with a dove on her hand, is quite memorable. And while the horror here isn’t of the shock variety, our brief glimpse of Christiane’s face, and the final shot, are enough to give this creepy classic a dash of gore. More arthouse than grindhouse, but a must see for horror fans.
What the girl sings in the background is the title of the movie in the original French, Les Yeux sans Visage.